The World’s First Female Electrical Engineer- Ms. Edith Clarke

hello everyone!

I had a super busy last week and the past weekend with my family. I have finally been able to put my head up for air to come back and say hello. As promised, in honor of Women’s History Month, I am offering a showcase of some more women. These women serve as a few initial trailblazers as early women in construction. I hope to have more time before the end of the month to showcase some more women. Once complete, I will put together a slideshow presentation and put it on YouTube. I shall see how the rest of the month goes.

Edith Clarke: First Female Electrical Engineer

For my next female early trailblazer, I am introducing you to the late Edith Clarke. Ms. Clarke was the world’s first female electrical engineer following this career path as a Professor of Electrical Engineering for the University of Texas in Austin. Believe it or not, Ms. Clarke was born in a small farming community in Maryland on February 10, 1883 as one of nine children. Sadly, Ms. Clarke, along with her siblings, became an orphan by the age of 12. Ms. Clarke went to live with her uncle for a short time before moving on to a boarding school. During this time, Ms. Clarke showed high proficiency in mathematics despite having a learning disability with regards to spelling. Ms. Clarke inherited a small amount of money from her parent’s estate that helped her go on to study mathematics and astronomy at Vassar College. Ms. Clarke graduated with Phi Beta Kappa honors in 1908. Post college, Ms. Clarke taught mathematics and physics at a girls private school in San Francisco. Some time later, Ms. Clarke moved on to teaching at Marshall College in West Virginia.

By the year 1911, Ms. Clarke enrolled as a civil engineering student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. During summer break, Ms. Clarke got an opportunity to work with AT&T research engineer Dr. George Campbell. Ms. Clarke stayed on with AT&T to train a group of female mathematicians who were quickly calculating figures for computing systems until 1918. After some time, Ms. Clarke enrolled in night school for electrical engineering at Columbia University. Ms. Clarke finished her electrical engineering degree at MIT. She also worked at GE and was involved in the first transcontinental telephone line that spanned between New York and California. Each project Ms. Clarke was involved in was very challenging yet extremely enticing to be involved in at the time. Despite these lofty projects, she wanted to return to full-time education. Ms. Clarke’s master’s thesis, was supervised by A. E. Kennelly, and entitled, “behavior of a lumpy artificial transmission line as the frequency is indefinitely increased.”

By 1919, Ms. Clarke earned her MSc. degree as the first women ever to hold these credentials at MIT. Despite her successful tract, Ms. Clarke could not find work as an engineer. By June of 1919, that is when Ms. Clarke was hired by GE to become a “human computer” and supervisor in the Turbine Engineering Department. By 1925, Ms. Clarke received her patent for her first invention, the Clarke Calculator. This tool was the first step towards the “Smart Grid” technology- according to the U.S. Department of Energy. By 1921, Ms. Clarke took a foreign Physics teaching position for Constantinople Women’s College in Turkey for the duration of a year. By 1923, Ms. Clarke achieves her goal of becoming a salaried electrical engineer for GE. In turn, she becomes the first female electrical engineer in the world.

By 1926, Ms. Clarke made a major societal contribution of critical national importance via her paper submission to the American Institute of Electrical Engineers (AIEE). The paper was entitled, “Steady-State Stability in Transmission Systems-Calculation by Means of Equivalent Circuits or Circle Diagrams”. This submission was the very first by a woman. This data was crucial during a time when transmission lines were becoming longer and longer that required higher electrical loads that could increase the instability of the entire system. Ms. Clarke moved on from GE after 25 years of insightful contributions. Ms. Clarke moved on to teaching back at the University of Texas in Austin. She broke another barrier as the first female electrical engineering professor in the United States until her retirement in 1956. Ms. Clarke was awarded a lifetime achievement award from the Society of Women Engineers. Ms. Clarke contributed in a wide variety ways that were recognized when she was alive and after her passing in 1959. In 2015, Ms. Clarke was posthumously inducted into the prestigious National Inventors Hall of Fame (NIHF).

I was originally trying to put some other ladies in this blog post. However, Edith’s contributions were way too impressive, too grand, and too important for society to pass up any ounce of it. I will have to hunt for some other impressive women in history. The sad part is that I have never ever heard of her before digging for her contributions before now. As I dig for women in different arenas, it will open up my avenues of future discussion within different social circles. The best part of discovering these treasures is finding some kick ass women who didn’t take no for an answer and found a way to make it happen. Well, I shall see what other great female contributors to society I can muster up next. As always, thanks for stopping by to read my content. Have a great hump day!

Cheers!

Leslie M. Jasper

 -Author & Host of the #VerballyDisastrous podcast now alive on Spotify, YouTube, and Soundcloud

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